Packaged Dinners You Can Feel Good About

March 14th, 2012 · 24 Comments · Dinner, Quick

It’s not that I don’t inhale what’s left of the frozen shrimp tempura from my daughters’ plates. Or that I didn’t grow up eating Stouffer’s creamy chicken pot pie once a week. Or that I have anything against a slice or two of Trader Joe’s quattro formaggio frozen pizza. My feeling is…if you can’t break out a good junky frozen dinner every now and then, well, I have to ask: Where is the joy in life? But for the most part, we like to stock our family freezer and pantry with quick-and-dirty packaged foods that a) we feel good about feeding our children and b) that we would eat ourselves. Here is a list of what we fall back on when we are going out (and s#*t! The babysitter is coming in 5!) or when we have nothing in the fridge. Or when the work day has been loooong and the evening with the kids seems soooo tragically short.

PJ’s Organic Chicken Burrito These are a recent discovery. They’re not cheap — I think each goes for about $7 — but you get what you pay for. Good quality ingredients, fresh flavor, and a variety to choose from. I find them at Whole Foods but website says you can find them in the freezer section at national supermarkets and natural food stores.

Black Bean Soup This is our go-to meal for Phoebe when she doesn’t like what everyone else is eating. A quick heat on the stovetop and a dollop of sour cream and it barely feels like I’m doing anything extra. She likes Latin Style from Trader Joe’s that comes in the carton, but we’ve also given her 365 brand from Whole Foods and Amy’s Black Bean Vegetable.

Trader Joe’s Thai Shrimp Gyoza Dumplings We steam these or saute them in a little oil and serve with broccoli. I once made a recipe from the Cooking with Trader Joe’s cookbook which called for tossing the dumplings into chicken broth with some frozen vegetables and a dash of soy sauce. It took about 10 minutes. I’m not sure why I haven’t reprised that one.

Whole Foods 365 Organic Vegetarian Chili Organic and affordable. It’s Phoebe’s favorite, but I often open a can for lunch and top it with a chopped avocado and a little sour cream.

Naked Nuggets  These are the un-breaded (so gluten-free) real white meat chicken pieces from the guys behind Blue Ribbon Sushi in New York. I think the genius of them is that you heat them in a little olive oil on the stovetop instead of in the oven. The only problem is that they can be a little hard to find — though their site lists availability at ShopRite and Food Lion among others. My 8-year-old literally gasps when she spies them in the freezer section.

Beans on Toast Let’s not forget this classic.

Hoffman’s Hot Dogs OK, I’ve never actually tried these, but Yolanda’s franks-n-beans dinner over on Momfilter sounds so good that I’m determined to remedy this culinary void immediately and stock up. (Slow-cooker owners encouraged to follow entire recipe.)

Spinach Pizza Snacks Back when Abby was little, the spinach tucked into these little bitesize pockets were the only green vegetable Abby would consume. So there was a stretch there when these graced the table way more often than they probably should have. For reasons I can’t remember, we called them “Fun Pies” and have had luck with other flavors, too — like southwest and  spinach and cheese.

Saffron Road Chicken Tikka Masala There is a whole line of these Indian freezer dinners and so far I haven’t tasted one I don’t like. Most take about three minutes in the microwave and come with rice. Add some grape tomatoes or a handful of baby carrots and pat yourself on the back.

PS: Giveaway happening on my Facebook page today!

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24 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kendra // Mar 14, 2012 at 11:07 am

    I just might go pick myself up a can of that 365 veggie chili for lunch today! Oh, and a can opener.

  • 2 Emily // Mar 14, 2012 at 11:30 am

    It has little to do with packaged dinners, but I am in love with the white scalloped plate in the burrito photo.

  • 3 Kristin // Mar 14, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Trader Joes breaded cod filets, Alexia crinkle fries, frozen peas are a little bit of home for my English husband….hence the beans on toast gets a lot of play in our house too (though not for me personally).

    Grocery store rotisserie chicken (Whole Foods’ buy one get one half off deal is great–I clean the meat off one and stick it in the freezer), Alexia frozen mash, and 365 brand frozen corn on the cob.

    365 brand salmon burgers.

    These meals or pizza delivery are usually what gets served before our Friday Family Movie Night…with homemade popcorn of course.

  • 4 Jenny // Mar 14, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Emily – I bought those plates at Fish’s Eddy in NYC. They are CHEAP! Here’s the link:
    http://www.fishseddy.com/browse.cfm/4,3646.html

    and here they are in light blue. Cute!
    http://www.fishseddy.com/browse.cfm/4,3573.html

  • 5 Shiv // Mar 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    We do the TJ’s breaded cod too with hummus and carrots.

    Ready-made dosa batter from the indian store is a saving grace for us. You use as much as you need at a time and eat with anything you want. We do potatoes and yogurt.

    Apple Chicken sausage is also a big one for us.

    Thanks for the list – it gives me more options.

  • 6 Jenny // Mar 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Shiv – I forgot about the chicken-apple sausages. We used to do those all the time! And I’m VERY intrigued by dosa batter. Is there a brand to look for? Or does your Indian market make it themselves?
    thanks for chiming in xxx

  • 7 Melissa@Julia's Bookbag // Mar 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    This list came on THE RIGHT DAY! I love you Jenny. :) And I also love that we share the same deep and abiding passion for Trader Joe’s!

  • 8 Molly // Mar 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Have you tried Amy’s Kitchen frozen foods? YUM! It’s a West Coast company – based in northern California – with a facility in southern Oregon. I’ve toured it and it smells amazing there. And I’ve, of course, tasted and YUMMY! http://www.amys.com/

  • 9 Amanda // Mar 14, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    This list came at the right time. I am purposely scheduling meetings with clients that have their office next to a Whole Foods so I can slip in there on my lunch break. Thanks!

  • 10 Anna // Mar 14, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    This is so great…I just this week made the Grated Vegetable Soup from your cookbook, omitted the grits and added TJ’s Chicken Gyoza Dumplings and soy sauce. It was a hit!

  • 11 Lori@ In My Kitchen, In My Life // Mar 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Fast food our house is something like the following:
    Cold weather: Frozen pirogues and kielbasa browned in a skillet w/ saurkraut
    Warm weather: canned tuna with canned cannellini beans, red onion, olive oil, and fresh sage from the herb bed

    Then, again, every once in awhile there is that blue box mac and cheese…

  • 12 Meister @ The Nervous Cook // Mar 14, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Every Wednesday (before a recurring appointment) I make myself a quick and easy dinner of a veggie burger (by Little Green Foods) with a big salad. It’s simple, fast, and delicious: The “pea-lafel” and mushroom patties are my favorite.

  • 13 Lisa // Mar 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Some of these things sound great…but seriously, burritos for $7 apiece? Whew.

  • 14 Denise // Mar 14, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    TJ’s cheese tortellini. $1.99 a package, which feeds the 2 of us. Add some chopped up tomatos and TJ’s pesto from a jar and Voila! A 7-minute meal.

  • 15 Jacquie | @After_Words // Mar 14, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    I think Evol burritos might be a tiny bit less expensive than PJ’s (though they’re not 100% organic). They also come in snack sizes, which are perfect for kids–if you had kids that would consider eating burritos (I hear they exist).

  • 16 Lee // Mar 15, 2012 at 12:10 am

    I’ll admit it: Trader Joe’s turkey meatballs and mini chicken tacos have come in very handy more than once — although usually not in the same meal!

  • 17 City Share // Mar 15, 2012 at 9:39 am

    We need to get better about keeping some emergency meals in the freezer. Thanks for the suggestions.

  • 18 oilandgarlic // Mar 15, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    I love the Trader Joe’s gyoza. We saute it but sometimes add water/curry powder and steam it a bit and add some shrimp or spinach to make it more of a meal. It’s delicious.

  • 19 Sara // Mar 16, 2012 at 10:59 am

    These look fantastic! But most of all, I love that we have the same awesome glasses from IKEA! :)

  • 20 Katherine // Mar 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Vermont does not have a Trader Joe’s! Look at all we’re missing! Who do I have to talk to to get a Trader Joe’s around here?! I make special trips to my parents house in Western Mass just to stock up on their tamales and gyozas. I guess what we lack in Trader Joe’s we make up for in CSA’s and Maple Syrup. Le sigh.

  • 21 Jamie // Mar 16, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    For real I just printed this so I can take it shopping with me this weekend!

  • 22 Lowongan Kerja // Mar 17, 2012 at 5:01 am

    These kind of foods should be made available in Australia as well. We haven’t got them downunder here.

  • 23 shannon // Mar 18, 2012 at 9:08 am

    When I know my son has big test the next day and we have extra studying to do, I pull out the stouffers lasagna and bag salad. He loves it so it cheers him up and gives him a break to look forward to. I refreeze the left overs in 2 serving containers so we get about 4 meals for $16!

  • 24 Zaida // Dec 10, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    Amy’s “India mattar paneer” meals have saved my life on many a working-late Thursday.

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